Call for Photos
James "Kimo" Gabriel, center, was the first Native Hawaiian Green Beret to lose his life in Vietnam.
Campaign seeks images of soldiers
By Simplicio Paragas
Her eyes welling up with tears, Billie Gabriel described how after 50 years, she recently found a letter her late brother, Kimo, had sent to her in January 1962 while fighting in Vietnam. It would be the last letter that he would write to his “Billie Girl.”
“I still miss him greatly,” says Gabriel, who is spearheading a grassroots effort to locate photographs of isle troops who were killed in action in Vietnam. “That’s why this project is very personal for me.”
Gabriel is reaching out to community members for their help and their stories of fallen loved ones during the Vietnam War. Initiated by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), The Hawaii Call For Photos is part of a national campaign, which is devoted to amassing photos of the 58,282 servicemen whose names appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. To preserve the memory of those fallen soldiers for future generations, the photos will be used in the new $85 million education center complex, which is currently being built near The Wall.
Earlier this year, Gabriel was invited to place a wreath at The Wall during the Memorial Day celebration. The experience, she says, was humbling and emotional, but it did afford her the chance to meet President Obama and the First Lady.
Of the 58,282 names inscribed on The Wall, 276 of them belong to Hawaii residents, including James Kimo Gabriel, Jr., Billie’s brother who was the first Native Hawaiian and Green Beret to be killed in Vietnam.
“The stories of the people who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam are stories of courage and honor,” says VVMF founder and president Jan C. Scruggs. “The 276 from Hawaii who answered their country’s call are a source of pride for your entire state. We honor them today, and we will honor them for years to come in the Education Center.”
More than 16,580 people from Hawaii served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and more than 82,904 people have an immediate family member who served in Southeast Asia during the war.
“My dad told me ‘You will learn no means go,’” says Gabriel, who received help in retrieving photos from Maui resident Janna Hoehn and Shirley Kauhaihao who lives on the Big Island. “I only need 89 more photos and I won’t stop until I get them all.”
Families or friends who would like to submit photos and share their stories for the Hawaii Call For Photo can call 497-7264 for more information.